By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
Officials laud end of Whitmore interchange project
What happens when you plan a ribbon cutting to open a new project that isn't ready to be opened? Have it anyway.

Caltrans' District 10 officials held a Friday ribbon cutting ceremony to open up the $41.9 million Whitmore /Highway 99 interchange, acknowledging that work was still ongoing.

The northbound Highway 99 offramp at Whitmore Avenue is expected to open Tuesday. Work on the overpass could extend into next month. Officials decided to have the ceremony after canceling one last month.

Carrie Bowen, Caltrans District 10 director, said the project will alleviate congestion on Whitmore Avenue and increase truck accessibility as well as access to Highway 99. She noted that the project is two months ahead of schedule.

Assemblyman Bill Berryhill said the project has "been a long time in coming," and noted that "It's a great day in Ceres to have this, to help with the flow of traffic. It's changed the whole look of this community."

Berryhill helped get legislation passed in Sacramento to name the new overpass after the Sgt. Howard Stevenson who died on the job in January 2005. Another dedication ceremony is planned once the signs come in, he said.

Stanislaus County Supervisor Jim DeMartini said he was certain that businesses which has suffered during the construction phase would be happy to see the project done and the offramp reopened. "It's like living in a house that you're trying to remodel," said DeMartini.

He said often local governments and residents don't feel like they get their share of tax dollars but that the Whitmore project was an example of the opposite occurring. DeMartini said that he wished the project was technically complete but acknowledged that the Ceres project "went really without much of a hitch."

Taking a jab at the state, DeMartini said that he wished he could offer a framed congratulatory certificate for Mayor Chris Vierra but noted that the "state raided our property tax money... and we had to make some cutbacks."

Vierra thanked all the local governments who helped place the Whitmore project high on the StanCOG priority project list and deferred their share of transportation funds toward the project. That's why Waterford Mayor Charlie Goeken was in attendance.

Vince Harris, executive director StanCOG, said his agency was involved in the project for 10 years and helped protect the funds for the project.

Vierra thanked the many people who worked on the "impressive overpass" and recalled the many years of hard work and dedication. He remembered the days when then City Engineer Joe Hollstein was working up conceptual designs.

"I remember Mr. Hollstein being with us and using what seemed to be onion skin paper, laying down different designs for what you see today," said Vierra.

Ground was broke on the project on Sept. 5, 2008. Nehemiah Construction of Benecia was awarded the $16.4 million contract.

The mayor thanked Ceres citizens and motorists for their patience during the last few years of construction. "I'm sure there were numerous times throughout the project," said Vierra, "when more than one motorist was frustrated with the delays and confusion caused by the rerouting of traffic. However, today we have this impressive new overpass linking both western and eastern portions of our city. The new overpass will not only offer new and improved access onto and off of Highway 99 but also greatly improve the safety of the many young adults who attend Ceres High School on a daily basis."

The project brings to Ceres a new and widened overpass, the widening of Whitmore Avenue between Blaker Road and Central Avenue and reconfigured intersections on both sides of the freeway.

Deputy Police Chief Mike Borges suggested that some out of towners might be confused about how to get on southbound 99 from Whitmore Avenue since the new overpass does not have any southbound onramps. Motorists will still have to travel to the existing onramp near Whitmore Park.

Hollstein, who was in the audience, said there was not sufficient space for a southbound off-ramp without widening and shifting the freeway 60 to 80 feet to the west. To do that, he said, a number of graves would have had to be exhumed and relocated, something he and the city were unwilling to do.

"People are used to what they've here, they've never had a southbound ramp, on or off."

Now retired, Hollstein said the state and city would have to be careful about synchronizing the traffic light for the northbound offramp or backups onto the freeway could occur at peak hours.

Vierra said the city and Caltrans are working out a possible deal to buy the leftover lands between Ceres High School and the Lazy Wheels Mobilehome Park. The city would like to get the land and offer it for private development.

The next big interchange project in the works for Ceres is the Mitchell/Service/99. Officials say it could take decades to plan and fund the project.

Vierra said the city has already started the environmental work and begun the process to buy up right of way.